It was a final dress rehearsal, except with multiple stand-ins.
The Jets first-team offense took the field together for the final time Saturday night before the games count for real in two weeks, but it wasn’t the true first team.
Running back Le’Veon Bell, the big offseason addition, wasn’t out there. Neither was starting center Ryan Kalil. Or right guard Brian Winters or left guard Kelechi Osemele. The entire unit, in fact, hasn’t been together the entire preseason.
But the Jets aren’t concerned. Why?
“Because of the way those guys operate in meetings and what they do on the practice field. The way they’re practicing, it’s intense,” coach Adam Gase said. “They’re going game speed. I know it’s different because when you go against another team, a different defense, you can’t simulate that in practice. When you go against our defense and they’re doing what they do, we have a feel for that.”
Still, it will be interesting to see how this group performs once the season begins, Sept. 8 against the Bills at MetLife Stadium. There is bound to be rust. Bell hasn’t played in a game since Jan. 14, 2018 after sitting out last season because of a contract dispute. Kalil, a 34-year-old, five-time Pro Bowler, was initially retired, and only began taking part fully in practices last week, as the Jets brought him along slowly after he came aboard on Aug. 1. Winters and Osemele have been held out with injuries, though both should be back for Week 1.
“Everybody here is a pro,” new running back Ty Montgomery said. “So, I don’t think anyone that misses time, we have to worry about them being rusty or anything like that.”
There is also the matter of a Gase’s new offense engineered by quarterback Sam Darnold, with newcomers like Jamison Crowder and Montgomery added to the mix. In the preseason, Darnold has looked comfortable in the system, completing 17 of 25 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The offense produced three touchdowns in 10 drives, starting fast in the first two preseason games with scoring drives on their opening possessions.
“He’s already pretty good and he’s going to continue to get better,” Montgomery said of the second-year quarterback. “I think we’re in a great spot right now. I like where we are.
We’re making some mistakes, but we’re doing some great things.”
“The reason I’m not concerned is how hard we practice,” Darnold said. “Obviously, with some of the guys that were here last year, I feel an immediate connection with them. But then guys like Ty and Jamison, the reason they’re having success in the preseason is because they practice so hard, and I’m used to it. The way they practice and the way they run routes in practice is the same way they run them in games.
“That’s just a credit to how they practice and how the defense practices. And I feel the exact same way about the O-line, some of the linemen that haven’t been in there. And then [Bell] as well.”
Still, it remains to be seen what this group will look like Sept. 8. There is mystery and uncertainty. A new offense with a new set of players that has yet to play together. But there is experience, at least with the players who haven’t been out there in games so far.
“We’ve got some older guys who’ve been around and know what it takes,” wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said.
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